Unemployment during OPT/STEM OPT

The federal government’s regulations are specific about allowable unemployment during a student’s post-completion and STEM OPT periods:

  • Post-completion OPT: 90 total, cumulative days of unemployment
    • “Unemployment” begins to count after USCIS approves the OPT application, AND the start date listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been reached.
  • STEM OPT: 150 total, cumulative days of unemployment during the student’s combined post-completion OPT and STEM OPT periods
    • For example, if a student used 75 days of unemployment during their post-completion OPT period, then she would have 75 remaining days of allowable unemployment during the STEM OPT period.

If an individual exceeds these limits on unemployment, then they must depart the United States as soon as possible.
During the past couple of years, the federal government has taken two major steps to monitor students’ OPT / STEM OPT employment via the SEVIS database:

  1. Addition of an “unemployment counter” within the SEVIS database (Only OIS has access to this). 
  2. Creation of the SEVP Portal (only students participating in OPT and STEM OPT can access the SEVP Portal and report their employment. OIS prefers students to report their OPT employment via My OIS, so that we can ensure that the information is reported properly to the federal government.)

These new systems make it easier for the federal government to detect if a student has exceeded the unemployment limits. The SEVIS database also allows for the “termination” of a student’s record for “exceeded unemployment time.” The federal government announced in October 2018 that at this point, it will not terminate students’ records automatically if they exceed the unemployment limits. However, the government is assessing the functionality of the “unemployment counter” and will “fully engage the auto-terminate action” in the future.
So, what does this mean?

  • It’s more important than ever to report your OPT employment, via My OIS or the SEVP Portal.
    • In theory, if a student begins a job during his OPT period, but fails to report the employment in a timely fashion, then the student’s SEVIS record could be terminated automatically by the federal government. Currently, there is not a way that the student could reactivate their SEVIS record if it is terminated in this manner.
  • Know the types of qualifying employment for your OPT, and STEM OPT periods.
  • Keep documentation (copies of contracts, job offer letters, etc.) about your OPT activities.
  • Keep track of your days of unemployment.
    • In the future, the SEVP Portal may display the “unemployment counter.”
    • Use a basic spreadsheet as a tool to count your days of unemployment.